“I’ve come full circle,” says Michael Skaff, an accomplished floral designer who opened his first flower shop in Connecticut more than 30 years ago. Earlier this year, he returned to his roots as a business owner by opening a studio in Hinsdale, in an old Victorian-home-turned-offices on Grant Street.
In the years in between, he’s designed floral arrangements for U.S. presidential inaugurations and the Academy Awards. He moved to Chicago eight years ago to serve as the vice president of design for FTD, handling innovation and brand distinction. “I’ve always had the entrepreneurial drive in my spirit, and I realized I wanted to get back to a more personal interaction with customers,” he says. Now he’s focused on creating beautiful arrangements and floral details for weddings, baby showers, corporate events, parties, and more. “I love the idea of watching something grow, and if it’s a special event, making sure the customer’s vision is fulfilled.”
Hinsdale felt like a natural choice for the location of the new Skaff Floral. “I felt an affinity to Hinsdale,” he says. He still has a home in Connecticut, and it reminds him a little bit of the area.Hinsdale is also close to his current home in Glen Ellyn, so it’s easy to get to and from the studio to meet with customers by appointment only.
Skaff’s approach to floral design is more than just an aesthetic one; it’s partly scientific. He studied horticulture and plant breeding in college in addition to design, so he understands why certain plants work well together and how they change over time. Then there’s the process of figuring out what the customer wants and delivering on it. For corporate events, the process is thorough. “I want to understand the business I’m designing for,” he says. “Is it traditional and classic? Is it modern? How can we incorporate a theme into the event? How can we work to make the event work and feel the right way?” A 4th of July party at the White House would require a different approach for an outdoor picnic on the lawn, compared to a more formal dinner indoors.
Before a wedding day, Skaff might meet with a bride half a dozen times. First there’s educating her on flower choices, then finding out what style she likes and what fits her personality. He’s actually a big fan of social media sites like Pinterest that brides often use to save photos of some of their favorite arrangements and floral ideas. “It’s great that brides are more aware of what they like. They may like this flower or that look or this color. It has really helped brides understand and do the homework themselves on what they like,” he says. “It becomes a clearer process.”
The emergence of social media and its influence is a big trend in the industry, but some of the more important trends might seem nuanced to outsiders, yet they’re ones Skaff makes particular note of. “Flowers are becoming more important to the general consumer,” he says. “You see that in mass markets—you can buy Phalaenopsis orchids at Trader Joe’s and plants at Home Depot.” He often compares the habits of American consumers to those in Europe and parts of Asia because in those parts of the world, floral design is considered much more of an art than it is here in the states. “In Japan, you go to school for two or three years to become a florist. Here, anyone can open up a flower shop,” he says. That’s changing somewhat, though. “Americans are adding flowers to their lifestyle. They’re buying them on a weekly basis,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with buying a bunch of peonies to make you feel good. It’s up to the designer to take that ordinary product and create something unique.”
The other big trend Skaff discusses at length is the number of new products coming from all corners of the globe. Roses traditionally come from Ecuador and Columbia, but Africa is becoming a hot spot for rose growing. A lot of interesting new products are being hybridized, too. Flowers are being created to last longer or have higher petal counts, more interesting colors, greener leaves, and no thorns.
If you’re wondering what Skaff is seeing in terms of consumer trends, it’s texture. That means adding berries and vines to interesting flower choices and seeing how the shapes come together. And Skaff has a few of his own favorite flowers he likes to use for design. “I love flowers with simple lines that have an elegance to them,” he says. “I love designing with things like calla lilies where you can manipulate the stem and curve and shape them, and orchids are always beautiful to design with.” But his favorite flower is actually a traditional garden favorite: daffodils. “It doesn’t have to be something exotic. It’s all about how it’s constructed or put together.”
Skaff Floral Creations is located at 19 N. Grant Street, 331-801-0018, skafffloral.com and is open by appointment only.
– Elizabeth Hope // Illustration by Kirsten Ulve